Owners of Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation (JPNDC)-constructed homes on the Back of the Hill are claiming that shoddy construction is responsible for a myriad of problems, including leaky roofs and rotting porches. They are considering legal action against the developers.
JPNDC Executive Director Richard Thal denied any culpability, but said the organization is willing to work with the homeowners to replace the rotting wood trim at a cost of $250,000.
“There was no wrongdoing on anybody’s part, but we do feel a sense of wanting to put things right and improve the situation,” he told the Gazette.
The 24-unit Back of the Hill Community Housing Initiative Phase III affordable homes were built in 2003 and 2004 along Heath, Lawn and Wensley streets.
Twelve Phase III owners are facing leaky roofs and rotting external wood trim as well as heating issues, drafty windows and poorly-installed kitchen counters, homeowners told the Gazette. The issues began within a year of the houses’ construction and have gotten worse, homeowner Corrinne Kelton said during an interview.
“This has been a nightmare. I would’ve never signed up for something like this,” she said of her 5 Wensley St. home. “I purchased this home in good faith. The JPNDC never did well by the homeowners.”
Sergio Morales, owner of 171 Heath St., said a group of 12 impacted owners is looking into hiring a lawyer to represent them.
“We’re looking for advice from someone who knows about this kind of issue,” Morales told the Gazette. “We need to figure out what’s good for us.”
The partnership between the JPNDC and the Back of the Hill (BOTH) Community Development Corporation (CDC) developed over 5 acres of land that had been abandoned or covered with debris for decades, Thal said.
Almost as soon as the Phase III homes were finished, problems with the buildings began to manifest, homeowners said. Roofs started leaking, causing water damage throughout the interiors. The external wood trim began to rot, compromising windows and porches. Bathroom and kitchen fixtures were separating from walls.
It is unclear what role the BOTH CDC is playing in the dispute. The project was a BOTH CDC and JPNDC partnership, though the JPNDC has been the only one dealing with owners.
A Gazette call to the BOTH CDC was not immediately returned.
Kelton said she sits on the board of the BOTH CDC, though she was quick to say, “My work with them [CDC] has nothing to do with what I’m going through now…This is a personal matter,” she said.
Since a June 2011 developer inspection of several homes, the homeowners and the JPNDC have been in talks, though a scheduled Sept. 22, 2011 meeting was cancelled at the last minute and never rescheduled.
The wood trim used has now been recognized by the developers to be of a lower standard of quality than normally used. That has to do with the growing conditions of the pine trees, which resulted in a softer-than-usual wood that is prone to faster water damage.
On March 22 of this year, homeowners received a letter stating that the JPNDC had secured funding and would be willing to replace the damaged external wood trim.
However, if the homeowners accepted the offer, they would “release all the parties involved in the original development from any claims [the homeowners] may have related to conditions other than those that [the JPNDC] are able to offer to repair.”
That apparently means the homeowners would give up the right to sue over any other construction-related problems with their homes.
“It sounds like they’re doing us a favor. It’s very insulting,” Kelton said. “They’re trying to coerce us into signing a settlement. They’re not looking at the overall issues.”
“We’re not interested in getting into protracted legal battles. We want to see what can be done to resolve the situation,” Thal said. “We feel this is a very fair offer so long after construction.”
“It turned out to not be as durable as everyone would’ve hoped,” Thal said of the trim. The JPNDC plans to replace with cedar trim.
Landmark Construction was the contractor on the Phase III homes.
The roofs are still under warranty, Landmark Vice President of Estimating and Marketing John Burns told the Gazette. The roofs also passed inspection immediately following construction, he said.
“When [the homeowners] called the roofers out, it seemed to fix the problem,” Thal said.
According to Morales, his roof was “misconstructed” from the beginning. He has called the roofers back for warranty-covered repairs, which he called a “Mickey Mouse job,” claiming that the roof still had leaks even after the repair work.
“I just want them to fix it,” he said.
“I woke up the other day and my whole bedroom was soaking wet,” Kelton said. “Behind the [damaged] wood, there’s a lot of water damage, the  inspector said.”
“They’re talking about only doing the trim. I want to know, when they pull down the trim and find rotten wood, what are they going to do?” asked Beverly Young, a homeowner on Lawn Street.
Another affordable condo development in Mission Hill faced similar problems. In 2006, homeowners in the Roxbury Crossing Condominiums, developed by the City’s Department of Neighborhood Development, filed complaints over similar issues. The City eventually acknowledged those issues were due to faulty materials and design. The condos, located on the corner of Tremont and Parker streets, eventually cost the City $1 million to fix.
Correction: Due to reporting errors, the Back of the Hill Townhouse Condos were misidentified as a JPNDC project. That development, built by the Bricklayers and Laborers Nonprofit Housing Corporation, also had construction quality complaints that led to a lawsuit. The Phase III project created 24 units of housing, not 46 as previously mentioned in this article.